In the early stages of a substance abuse problem, it’s possible to overcome the issue through willpower and community support alone; with the right mind state and with a team of loving, supportive people, you can wean yourself off of the substance in question and put measures in place to prevent relapse.
But in more advanced cases of substance abuse, things get more complicated. A person may develop a physical tolerance to the drug so strong that if they attempt to quit cold turkey, the consequences could be life threatening.
In these scenarios, the only hope for recovery is a medical detox – a supervised, medication-driven approach to help patients overcome addiction. But what exactly is this procedure and how can it help someone with a substance abuse problem?
What Is Medical Detox?
Medical detoxification, shortened to medical detox, is a process designed to help the body eliminate toxic addictive substances, like alcohol and other drugs. Medical detox is managed by a team of licensed medical professionals, including nurses, therapists, and other clinical staff members, who will supervise the patient until they’ve overcome the most intense stages of withdrawal.
Under ordinary circumstances, if a physically addicted patient attempts to quit all at once, they may experience severe withdrawal symptoms, including involuntary convulsions, irregular heartbeat, vomiting, severe fatigue, insomnia, nausea, sweating, depression, and even hallucinations.
Under the observation of medical detox, nurses and medical staff can observe and measure these withdrawal symptoms; if and when they begin to emerge, they can provide the affected person with medication to ease these symptoms.
Ultimately, medical detox works to ease a person off of their physical dependence to a substance, minimizing symptoms of withdrawal along the way with medication.
Is Medical Detox Supposed to Treat Addiction?
Some people describe medical detox as a form of “addiction treatment,” but this is slightly misleading. Medical detox is designed to be the first step of a more robust addiction treatment program. It’s extremely helpful in getting a person through the initial stages of addiction recovery, and can reduce their physical dependence on the substance in question while keeping them safe during their withdrawal period.
However, medical detox doesn’t treat the underlying causes of addiction. A person who undergoes medical detox, but doesn’t undergo any other kinds of therapy or treatment, will be at higher likelihood of relapse in the future.
Who Is Eligible for Medical Detox?
It’s important to understand that medical detox isn’t a universal form of addiction treatment. Not everyone with a substance abuse problem will need or benefit from medical detox.
Medical detox is designed for people who are at risk for physical dependence on an addictive substance. Signs of physical dependence include:
- Using the substance consistently and in high quantities. If you use this substance every day, or if you take high quantities of this substance, medical detox may be necessary.
- Using the substance over a long period of time. The longer you take a substance, the more you’ll need medical detox; a years-long abuser will need more support than someone who started a few days ago.
- Needing to use larger amounts of the substance to achieve the same effects. This is one of the surest signs of physical dependence. The effects of the substance grow weaker and you need to take more to feel the same effects.
- Experiencing physical cravings for the substance. When you aren’t using the substance, do you feel a physical craving for it? If so, you may need medical detox.
- Trying and failing to quit a substance independently. If you’ve tried – and failed – to quit this substance previously, on your own, medical detox may be your only reliable option.
In addition, some substances are more likely to require medical detox for treatment than others.
These are some of the most common substance addictions treated with medical detox:
- Alcohol. Alcohol directly affects the central nervous system, which in turn controls your heart rate, stress response, blood pressure, body temperature, and other automated bodily functions. Because of this, alcohol withdrawal can interfere with your most important bodily functions – and in severe cases, without medical detox, can be fatal.
- Opioids. Heroin, morphine, codeine, oxycodone, and other opioids can eventually lead to a slowdown of the body’s natural endorphin production. Opioid withdrawal, while not fatal, can be extremely unpleasant without medical detox, leading to flu-like symptoms, anxiety, nausea, and vomiting.
- Benzodiazepines. Benzodiazepines, or benzos, function as sedatives and are prescribed to treat anxiety or seizures. However, they have the same issue as alcohol – they tap into the central nervous system, so withdrawal can be downright dangerous.
Prescription drugs, stimulants, and synthetic drugs may also require medical detox.
How Long Does Medical Detox Take?
The duration of your medical detox treatment will vary based on a number of factors, including which drugs you’ve taken, the severity of your dependence, the severity of your withdrawal symptoms, and whether you’ve taken any drugs recently. For many people, medical detox is over in just a few days. For more extreme cases, it can take two weeks or longer. Medical detox will continue until the patient has gotten through the most dangerous stages of withdrawal.
Depending on your personal circumstances, you may be permitted to leave medical detox for short periods of time. However, you should remain under direct supervision by medical professionals throughout the medical detox in most cases.
What’s After Medical Detox?
Remember, medical detox doesn’t “cure” your addiction. It’s simply the first step of addiction recovery. After your medical detox is over, and you’re well past the possibility of dangerous withdrawal symptoms, you’ll ideally enter a supportive setting where your treatment can continue. A combination of therapy, support groups, and new healthy activities can ensure your journey to addiction recovery continues.
Are you or a loved one experiencing a strong physical dependence on alcohol, opioids, benzos, or other similar substances? If so, medical detox is the first step in your total addiction recovery. To learn more about medical detox, or to get started right away, contact Just Believe Recovery Center today!